The HBO ‘Spielberg’ Documentary: What used to be good about Hollywood

I eagerly awaiting the time when HBO released its newest documentary titled simply as Spielberg. It was a Saturday night on October 7th when I was finally able to see it after waiting months for it to air, and I enjoyed it immensely. With all the recent discussion about Harvey Weinstein and the current decline of Hollywood, this Spielberg documentary was an interesting looking into everything that has been good about the movie industry. Clearly, and I’ve always felt this way, without Steven Spielberg as a great producer and writer, all of our lives would be much less optimistic. What the HBO documentary did that most DVD interviews have failed to do is pin point what drove Steven Spielberg and how that raw ambition touched the lives of so many people. It’s hard to watch anything on television or at the movies that Steven Spielberg has not touched in a good way. I always loved that filmmaker’s natural optimism and enjoyed how he could take incredibly dark topics like Schindler’s List and find the good in such a terrible story. Personally, 1993 was a year of really intense emotions. I was being sued many times over for a business deal that went south. Bill Clinton had just become president when I campaigned hard for Ross Perot and I literally felt like the world was coming to an end in everything that was going on around me. Then I saw Jurassic Park where several brilliant shots in that movie by Spielberg blew the doors off the future of visual effects—namely the attack at the T-Rex paddock in a downpour of rain in a lush tropical jungle to a booming symphonic musical score that I have never forgotten. Then just a few months later Schindler’s List was released and it became one of my favorite movies. As a very young person I was ready to be a filmmaker myself because Spielberg inspired me to do so. But what I learned harshly over the next 15 years was that I was more intended to the subject of movies rather than the maker of them. Some people are meant to be behind the camera, others are meant to be in front of them. Steven Spielberg was uniquely gifted in life to be behind the camera where everything made much more sense to him, and we are all better for it.

What made Spielberg tick was his overly optimistic approach to life mixed with his natural fears that were more defined than most people were aware of. Spielberg used movies as his natural therapy to work out things in life that were beating him down. The only time Steven Spielberg was a fearless human being was when he was behind the camera where he was able to work things out in a way that allowed them to be captured on film. I learned about myself much later that I didn’t like the collaborative process of making movies the way Spielberg did and that I didn’t live my life like he did his. I wasn’t insecure about anything and that doesn’t make for very compelling stories—only the characters within stories as they interact with the outside world. Understanding that made me appreciate what Steven Spielberg did that much more over his lifetime.

I have enjoyed Spielberg’s movies since that magical year of 1993, but never to the same extent as before that date and I think he’s happy with things that way. Hollywood beat up on him for being such a Peter Pan type of personality and they wouldn’t give him credit for being the best director in film history until he made more “adult” dramas which he has. With a new wife to support him, Steven Spielberg went on to make a number of very serious and ambitious movies that many respect, but never tickled the box office quite the same. The Hollywood communists were happy, but the movie industry as a whole wasn’t but who could be mad at Spielberg. He certainly did his part to invent the industry from virtually nothing in the 1970s with a handful of other filmmakers including George Lucas. I’ve always known it but the HBO documentary really captured how unique the movie brats for which Spielberg was a member truly was. I’m glad to have grown up in a time when those types of filmmakers were making movies in Hollywood. I thought it might go on for a long time, but it really only lasted about 20 years. As I was working to get into that business it was obvious the door had closed and people like Harvey Weinstein were in charge of Hollywood and the doors to the next generation of movie brats were not open to conservatives.

Filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas are not what we’d consider today to be conservative, but they came from a time when father was supposed to know best and rectifying that disappointment took their characters in film to great places. But the foundation of conservativism was there because they grew up in small towns and had fathers who worked hard and were successful in their own ways. They came from intact families and those foundations are present in their movies, from Star Wars to E.T. The magic of those types of movies from those types of filmmakers are so rare now. I thought it was amazing the way the world stopped for a moment just to watch the preview to the new Star Wars movie The Last Jedi during Monday Night Football on October 9th just a few days after the Spielberg documentary was released on HBO. Star Wars is all about family or the lack of it and people are so desperate for a sense of family these days, because liberalism has essentially crushed the notion. That is what separates Spielberg’s movie brats from the lost kids of today. There are no filmmakers like Spielberg out there or coming up, because the American family has essentially been destroyed. If you really want to breakdown what’s sick in Hollywood it is that they don’t tell stories about families anymore. They tell stories about why families are so messed up which robs the viewers of their products of the sanctification they are seeking with the price of a movie ticket.

Even Brian DePalma’s film Scarface which I was surprised to learn Spielberg actually worked on, was about family. Without the family element Tony Montana was just a thug. But in the context of his actions, we could sympathize and like the cocaine mogul because he was in essence a guy who wanted to take care of his family and start one of his own crawling out from under the communist regime in Cuba. Becoming a cocaine dealer was his only real path—a premise that was elaborated on later with the Breaking Bad series. But to come up with these stories from scratch the original movie brats for which Spielberg was the undisputed leader is something we may never see again. I’m glad to have seen it once, but it really is sad that we likely will never get it again for a long time. The conditions that make someone like Steven Spielberg just aren’t there for a new generation of movie makers. The material that young people have to work with now are the products of people like Weinstein where with Spielberg and Lucas it was John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock. The idea of a young Spielberg camping out illegally on the Universal lot just to learn how to make movies is something that the institution of filmmaking today just wouldn’t allow with their obsession with rules and regulations—and that is truly sad.

But the documentary was a marvelous look into one of the most fascinating people in human history, Steve Spielberg who was able to take his natural optimism, massive creative intellect and disappointments toward the nature of family life and put them into a series of marvelous movies that have lasted for decades and will stand the tests of time. I will always have a soft spot for Steven Spielberg even though later in life he has become more of a Democrat and supported politicians like Barack Obama. I’m sure if I sat down at lunch with him I’d have far more in common than not. What has always made Spielberg great is that he understood the American family and refused to be tainted by the disappointments of our times. And instead he put up on the big silver screen all the optimism his vast imagination could conceive and it made our world far better off.

Rich Hoffman

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